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Shaw classic dazzles at Players

  • “Pygmalion” is the Peterborough Players’ latest offering. Photo by Deb Porter-Hayes


Wednesday, August 03, 2016

The Peterborough Players bring a loaded line-up of acting, directing, and design talent to their production of “Pygmalion,” but the true dazzler is that old wizard George Bernard Shaw. The only person to have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and an Oscar, he may have died in 1950, but his intelligence and wit blaze as brightly as ever.

If your only knowledge of “Pygmalion” is having seen the musical adaptation “My Fair Lady,” be prepared for a shock. The film is a sugary confection; the play is steak tartare. Based on a Greek myth about an artist who falls in love with his own creation, the central character is Professor Henry Higgins, an authority on phonetics played with dash and deviltry by Greg Wood. He bets a friend, Colonel Pickering (whom Michael Page manages to make decent but never dull), that he can pass off an uneducated Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, as a duchess, merely by changing her accent.

Karron Graves brings a wonderful mix of strength and softness to the part of Eliza. Starting as a whining guttersnipe, her metamorphosis to a strong, independent woman perfectly capable of defying Higgins is built carefully and credibly over the course of the 2 hour, 25 minute play. She has Henry Higgins pegged from the start; he’s a bully, a word Shaw uses like a bludgeon.

The rest of the cast operates at the same high level. Despite a few last-dress-rehearsal bobbles, they created distinct, memorable, side-splitting characters. Dale Hodges, Dee Nelson, and Mason Conrad were particularly effective, but there’s not a weak spot in the ensemble. And Charles Morgan’s set, especially the office that Higgins and Pickering share, is rich with loving detail.

Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s disreputable father, played with magnificent disrepute by Kraig Swartz, is Shaw’s true spokesman. Undergoing his own metamorphosis – when he first appears, he resembles a combination of Charlie Manson and Yogi Bear – he never opens his mouth without pulverizing some pious cliché about “middle-class morality.”

But it’s Shaw who never fails to surprise us, to engage us, to disrupt our comfortable notions, and make us think. He’s the star of the show.

“Pygmalion” runs through Aug. 14. For more information or tickets, visit eterboroughplayers.org.